Back to the Future, the National League Set to Roll Back the Designated Hitter

For one short season, every professional league in baseball used a designated hitter. There were a lot of fights about implementing the rule in the National League but once it was here it suddenly just became baseball again.

Tradition has always been the top argument against it but today I’m not going to waste time discussing the merits. The fact is the rule will need to be collectively bargained to make it permanent and that isn’t going to happen before the first pitch is thrown in 2021.

I wrote some time ago that if the NL rolls back the DH the Pirates will have to make at least one choice they otherwise could have put off. That choice being Josh Bell or Colin Moran. For most of the season fans complained about Derek Shelton’s usage of his players in his lineup. From the choices he put in the lineup to playing both Josh Bell and Colin Moran while putting Josh in the field.

One of the points I would bring up often was the very real possibility that the DH would go away and having Bell not play the field could hurt his trade value or simply prevent this coaching staff from working with him to improve at the position.

Either way, and really no matter what you wanted to see, that discussion ends now. It changes instead to which one sits on the bench. The Pirates urgency to move one of them minimally steps up a level.

They aren’t alone, every team in the NL will face questions now about how they work that bat back into the mix. Ryan Braun for instance of the Milwaukee Brewers was a perfect fit for the role and having that option was a god send for the crew. Now what?

Every pitching staff in the NL gets to go back to that easy out at the bottom of the order. The one that allows you to work around the number 6 hitter if you choose and bleed the life out of a lineup. It places renewed importance on the heart of the order to get the job done and suddenly we’ll be back to the deflating feeling that this rally just started too low in the lineup.

The strategy comes back too. The bench was rarely important last year and it stole a role away from someone like Jose Osuna. Without the pinch hitting opportunities you either started or better be a defensive replacement type player.

It changes roster composition is the point. That’s why the news is trickling out now. The decisions that will need to be made by every team in the NL are clear, and the league wisely is letting GMs in on the joke. My biggest fear was the possibility that we’d get too far into the off season to afford ample time for teams to jockey their rosters around, so for that I’m grateful.

Another wrinkle here is, the DH was undeniably popular. I find it difficult to believe it doesn’t return in 2022 after the CBA is renegotiated. OK, maybe 2022, this promises to be a pretty contentious situation. So, teams must also be careful to not make rash choices for one season. In other words, don’t make a decision that is going to leave you an open question in a year if you can avoid it.

Maybe I’m wrong and the DH is as dead as disco in the NL forever, I have no way of knowing, but I’ll tell you what, public enemy number one for planning is uncertainty and at the very least that’s where we are.

Again, none of this is to argue the merits of the DH. We all have opinions on that but I’m much more concerned about rules that cause roster modification being a bit too flexible. 2020 created quite a few messy situations, but quite possibly nothing as far reaching as this.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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